Kingdom Hearts remains one of the more bizarre new franchises to come out of the previous generation of games. Disney and Square Enix seemed like an unusual, if not impossible, combination. A game where Mickey Mouse teamed up with Cloud from Final Fantasy VII was so strange that it almost bordered on parody, but somehow, the two combined to form a game with surprisingly lasting appeal. Some people play the games for the wacky adventures in Disney worlds, while others play it for the unusual and increasingly complex backstory given to the game's main character, Sora, and the world he lives in. Regardless, it's impossible to deny that Kingdom Hearts somehow mixed two seemingly impossible companies together successfully. Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is the latest journey into the Kingdom Hearts world.
358/2 Days takes place between Kingdom Hearts and the beginning sequence of Kingdom Hearts 2, roughly at the same time as the GBA game, Chain of Memories. Players take control of Roxas, Sora's ... well, without going into the unusual Kingdom Hearts mythology, Roxas is basically Sora's evil clone. It stars Roxas as he goes on missions to various Disney worlds at the behest of the Organization. Along the way, he encounters a number of characters, both Disney favorites and characters from the Kingdom Hearts franchise, the most important of which is the mysterious "14th" member of Organization XIII, a girl known as Xion. There are no new Disney worlds in this game; it takes a further look at worlds already visited in other Kingdom Hearts titles.
The game itself is a sort of Diablo-style take on the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Players will be given missions by the Organization, which must be completed in various worlds. These missions vary from collecting items to defeating certain Heartless, to finding out information by wandering the stage. In our E3 demo, we were tasked with going to Agrabah, land of Disney's Aladdin, and defeating a swarm of enemies. Completing the missions earns you various shinies, including items, slots and panels, which will be used to further upgrade Roxas' abilities. Instead of simply leveling up, Roxas finds panels which he slots into a square box on the menu screen. These panels represent everything about Roxas' abilities and can influence everything from the magic he has available to his level. As the game advances, Roxas will get access to more slots for his panels, which grants players greater customization over their character. The more missions you complete, the more customizable Roxas becomes, which is encouragement alone to complete missions, even if you didn't get a slew of prizes for it.
Once you take a mission, you're teleported to that world, where the game takes on a more traditional Kingdom Hearts style of gameplay. Despite being on the Nintendo DS, the basic gameplay is functionally unchanged. As you'd expect from a clone of Sora, Roxas plays very similarly indeed. Moving around and fighting is basically identical. The d-pad controls Roxas and moves him around, and the A button allows him to jump. Like the other Kingdom Hearts titles, your actions in combat are selected from an RPG-like combat menu. Pressing the Y button while "Attack" is highlighted will make Roxas swing his Keyblade at enemies. When you earn upgrades to this, you can time button presses to unleash additional combos onto enemies. Pressing B allows you to cycle through the various options, include magic and items. Fortunately, magic can be bound to a special shortcut menu accessible by holding the L button, which allows you to cast attack or healing spells quickly. There is also a "limit break," which players can perform when their health is low, similar to those seen in Final Fantasy games. Overall, it's exceedingly similar to the original Kingdom Hearts game, admittedly on a Nintendo DS. The camera, at least in the version we played, was a little hard to control, and while the in-game lock-on did fine during battle, a few of the platforming segments were a little finicky, since rotating the camera took time and was nearly impossible to do while in motion.
One of the big selling points of 358/2 Days is going to be the multiplayer features. As Roxas completes missions, he may find badges, which unlock new missions to be played through the local wireless gameplay, which is almost a unique game mode in itself. In multiplayer, players can choose to play as any of the 14 members of Organization XIII, as well as various cameos from the rest of the Kingdom Hearts games, including Disney characters. Each character has his or her own unique abilities, attacks and power-ups, and with the exception of Roxas, are only playable in this mode. Up to four people can work together on missions, but this mode is wireless only, so don't expect to have Wi-Fi adventures with your friends across the country. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to try out this mode at E3, although it certainly seems like it will appeal to anyone with a group of Kingdom Hearts-playing friends.Unlike Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is very much a classic Kingdom Hearts title in terms of gameplay. Anyone who has played the PS2 titles will feel instantly at home with the gameplay and mechanics here, and other than reduced visual quality, it's almost indistinguishable from any of the PS2 titles. There are a few twists to the overall gameplay, but they're mostly in regard to how you take missions and how you level up your character. The addition of multiplayer is a first for the Kingdom Hearts franchise, and while it is far from the major selling point, it seems like it could provide an interesting reason to keep playing the game after you've finished the main plot. Those looking for more Kingdom Hearts action should be quite pleased, as the game provides exactly what you'd expect.
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